High School Students Explore Resilient Building Design and Engineering at Stevens’ Environmental Hackathon
Hosted by Stevens’ Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering, the event introduced young minds to engineering concepts and career paths
Stevens Institute of Technology recently held its inaugural "Environmental Hackathon: Designing Structures for Extreme Weather." The Hackathon, hosted by the Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering (CEOE), in partnership with the Mountain Lakes Public Library (MLPL), and sponsored by Structural Workshop, LLC, took place at the Stevens MakerCenter in the ABS Engineering Center.
In addition to learning about Stevens, students from Mountain Lakes High School and various Hudson County high schools learned about resilient infrastructure through hands-on prototyping and exposure to computer-simulated models.
The agenda included a campus tour and presentations from members of the Stevens community. Sarath Chandra Kumar Jagupilla, associate professor and associate chair of undergraduate studies in the CEOE department, and Matthew Janssen, research engineer, coastal engineering, introduced the students to various engineering disciplines at Stevens.
The importance of designing for extreme weather
Stevens trustee, founder and president of Structural Workshop, LLC Joe DiPompeo ’98 explained the importance of designing structures for extreme weather.
“Every single structure is designed for 80-to-100-mile-per-hour winds in this area, at least depending on where you are,” said DiPompeo.
DiPompeo explained that earthquakes and snowstorms that leave three feet of snow on roofs are all part of the calculations when building structures.
“While every structure is designed for weather, certainly changing weather conditions and stronger storms, and coastal flooding and the wave action that comes with storms like we saw during Hurricane Sandy, highlights the increasing importance of preparing the next generation of engineers to build the resilient structures of the future,” DiPompeo emphasized.
The students were given building simulation kits, and they were encouraged to build them as tall and large as possible.
“It was not a formal competition, but the students naturally became competitive toward the end, prompting us to measure their constructions and encourage higher building,” DiPompeo observed. “This was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the event.”
An event born from connection, collaboration
“Do you think Stevens would be interested in collaborating on a hackathon of some kind?”
This question from Ian Matty, the co-founder and director of Mountain Lakes Public Library Makerspace (MLPL), to Stevens student Richard He ’24, a senior in the mechanical engineering program and an alumnus of the MLPL Makerspace program, set in motion a series of events that ultimately linked potential collaborators to plan this first-of-its-kind event at Stevens.
“The hackathon idea grew out of crisscrossing ideas after helping at an MLPL Makerspace tech week at Saint Joseph's School for the Blind in Jersey City,” said He, whose senior design project is targeted for the visually impaired. Matty, who also is connected with Saint Joseph's School for the Blind and has experience working with the visually impaired community, is He’s senior project advisor.
“I wanted to involve Mr. Matty because he helped me develop the project idea, and I was inspired after working with him and the kids at Saint Joseph’s. Working on a project centered on accessibility and universal design resonated with me more than the other available projects,” said He.
From that experience came another connection.
Rekha Manohar, associate director of external relations for the Stevens Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering and Science, coordinated the visit to the St. Joseph’s School for the Blind last Spring.
“The visit was to inspire senior design project ideas for interested students and foster a relationship with a local school in our community. Richard was one of the students who signed up because of his interest and prior experience working with Ian at the Mountain Lakes Public Library Makerspace,” said Manohar.
When He decided he wanted Matty as a mentor on his senior design project, a meeting was set with Manohar to discuss the details of the mentorship. The idea of the hackathon came up in the discussion.
“Ian mentioned that he was planning to do an event with Joe DiPompeo and Mountain Lakes High School students,” said Manohar. She thought this could be a great partnership opportunity and suggested hosting the event on the Stevens campus.
“We discussed the concept of working together with high school students and their learning about the college experience, especially as relates to design and engineering,” said Matty.
The idea was presented to DiPompeo at a later date, and the rest was history — the Hackathon was born.
“Joe graciously agreed to sponsor the event on behalf of his company, Structural Workshop, LLC,” said Manohar.
“The event provided a broad view of engineering disciplines and creative opportunities, especially for high school students,” said Matty. “It was also encouraging to see parental involvement, as it supports their children's exploration of engineering paths.”
Matty expressed optimism about future collaborations. “I'm hopeful we can continue such initiatives, furthering the exposure of young minds to engineering concepts and potential academic and professional paths,” he said.
Reflecting on the event's success, DiPompeo said, “It was wonderful to have professionals engage with the students, introducing them to the real world of structural engineering.”